- Opposition party claims fresh facts show ruling party sabotaging electoral umpire
By Adedayo Akinwale and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Following the opposition of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) ban on electioneering during the one week extension of poll, the commission will meet today to review the restriction.
INEC, according to its national chairman’s Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, would meet to review its position and decide whether or not to reopen campaigns.
The two leading parties have argued that the commission’s restriction has no basis in law.
The PDP also alleged that fresh facts have confirmed that officials of the federal government and the APC have been sabotaging INEC in a well-orchestrated plot to engineer staggered presidential election, contrary to simulated stance by the presidency and the party’s National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole.
The main opposition party also urged the electoral body to rescind its decision on the suspension of campaigns by political parties, a position backed by the Director of Strategic Communications of the ruling party’s Presidential Campaign Council, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, who described as illegal, the decision of INEC not to allow political parties to engage in further campaigns, despite the postponement of the presidential election to Saturday.
However, the South-south Coordinator, and Special Adviser on Youth and Support Groups to the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Rev. Chukwudi Eke, has called on the federal government to ensure peaceful and credible elections.
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement yesterday said the reason for the postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections was that President Muhammadu Buhari was determined to have a staggered election, where he could use security agencies to subvert the will of the people at the polls.
According to the PDP, APC sympathisers in INEC engineered actions that affected the distribution and delivery of INEC’s sensitive materials to designated locations, thereby frustrating the electoral process.
The party stated: “We also have details of how a hired team of data hackers corrupted the voter register, with a view to cause mass confusion and voters suppression on the election day.
“Nigerians would have been shocked that many registered voters in possession of their Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs) would have arrived their polling centres on election day, only to discover to their amazement that their names have disappeared from the register in their units.
“Intelligence available to us further details how agents of the Buhari Presidency infiltrated the distribution system and ensured that sensitive election materials do not arrive at the designated locations, with a view to stall elections in several states and pave way for a staggered election.
“This is in addition to deliberate swapping of sensitive election materials between different states and local governments so as to muddle up the process and stall election in affected areas. In some of states like Edo, sensitive election materials did not arrive at their designated points on APC interruption.”
The main opposition party urged Nigerians to continue to be alert in resisting the APC and the presidency in their plot to sabotage the elections.
The party said Nigerians would recall that it had vehemently protested the continued retention of Buhari’s relation, Mrs. Amina Zakari, in INEC.
“We have been reliably informed that the same Amina Zakari and another high-ranking INEC commissioner played a pivotal role in assisting the APC and the Buhari presidency in sabotaging the operations of INEC and scuttling the February 16 elections,” it stressed.
PDP Asks INEC to Reverse Decision on Suspension of Campaigns
Meanwhile, following the postponement of the general election by one week and the subsequent decision of INEC not to extend campaign period by political parties, PDP, has urged the commission to rescind its decision.
The electoral body had in the early hours of Saturday announced its decision to reschedule the general election by one week.
The presidential and National Assembly elections earlier scheduled for February 16 would now hold on Saturday, February 23, while governorship, State Assembly and FCT Area Council elections scheduled for March 2, would now hold on Saturday, March 9, 2019.
While addressing a press conference Saturday in Abuja, the Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had said that the collection of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and campaign by political parties remained closed.
Speaking to THISDAY yesterday, Ologbondiyan said since the election has been postponed, political parties cannot keep quiet as they need to speak with the people and canvass for votes.
He said: “What the law provides for is that campaign will stop 48 hours before the election. If the election is postponed, it can’t be 48 hours and we cannot remain silent as political parties ahead of the election.”
He said he believed that the position of the commission would not go down well with all the political parties considering the fact that this is electioneering period.
Ologbondiyan stated: “I believe INEC must try and reconsider it now because the nation cannot be silent. We are in electioneering time and politicians must campaign and speak to the people.
“So, I don’t think his (Yakubu) position is accepted by majority of the political parties. So, we urge the INEC chairman to look at his position, vis-à-vis what the electoral law provides.”
Last night the party said after due consideration of the provision of the Electoral Act, it has decided to reopen its open campaigns.
It said in a statement yesterday by Ologbondiyan that its position was predicated on the clear provision of section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act, which stipulated that “for the purposes of this Act, the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day.”
It stated: “The party rejects the wrongful administrative prohibition of open campaigns by INEC, holding that such administrative pronouncement was erroneous, directly in conflict with the provision of the Electoral Act and is not backed by any other law in our country.”
The party reminded INEC that whenever its administrative pronouncement conflicts with the Electoral Act, such administrative pronouncement must bow before the law.
It said: “The clear import of this provision, in the current situation, is that given the postponement of the election to February 23, 2019, the 24 hours requirement for closure of all public campaigning falls at midnight of February 21.”
The party, therefore, urged INEC to be appropriately guided while directing its members to await further directives ahead of its reopening of campaigns.
INEC’s Suspension of Campaigns Illegal, Says Keyamo
In a related development, APC presidential campaign spokesman, Keyamo, has described as illegal, the decision of the INEC not to allow political parties to engage in further campaigns, despite the postponement of the presidential election to Saturday.
Keyamo told THISDAY yesterday that INEC has no power to suspend campaigns by political parties, having shifted the date of the presidential election.
According to him, the Electoral Act is explicit on the days allowed for campaigns, which is 24 hours before the Election Day.
“The Electoral Act says campaign should cease 24 hours to the Election Day and I think INEC cannot make any regulation different from the provisions of the electoral law. So, going by the Electoral Act, once you revise the election date, you must also revise automatically the date and schedule for campaigns. In fact, the campaign schedule revises itself automatically; INEC does not even have to take any action on it. The moment you reschedule the day of the election, you automatically reorder the period of campaigns,” he explained.
Keyamo, however, said that what he offered was a personal opinion, adding that whether or not APC will continue with campaigns will have to be taken by the national leadership.
He said based on the provisions of the Electoral Act, INEC cannot possibly make any case against a political party that proceeds with its campaigns at the tribunal.
“That pronouncement by INEC is null and void, it is illegal,” he added
Atiku Support Groups Call for Calm, Peaceful Elections
However, despite the late hour postponement of the general elections by INEC, the South-south Coordinator and Special Adviser on Youth to Support Groups to Atiku Abubakar, Rev. Chukwudi Omordi Eke, has called on the government to ensure peaceful and credible elections.
Eke, who made the call while speaking with journalists in Abuja yesterday, noted that electing a new Nigerian president as well as members of the national and state assemblies must not be a do or die affair.
He stressed that the election observers who serve as watchdogs for the election would discourage in no small measure attempt to rig the elections, while urging the observers to be dispassionate and non-partisan in the discharge of their duties.
He stated: “The world is watching, let us prove to other African nations that our democracy has come to stay; and will get better with each successive national election.
“The federal government must, therefore, emulate the example set by former President Goodluck Jonathan, who organised the freest and fairest elections in the history of the Nigerian democracy; and do the same for the good of the present and future Nigerians.”